How to Become a Formula 1 Racecar Engineer

Reviewed by Melina Theodorou

Illustration of an F1 racecar and three mechanics working on its wheels

Do you feel the need for speed in finding a career? If so, perhaps the Formula 1 racing circuit will give you the adrenaline rush you seek, along with a handsome paycheque. Racecar driving might not be a feasible career path for you, but working as an engineer is just as good since you are a critical member of the motor team. Without you, there is no way the driver and pit crew could survive. 

Formula 1 is a pedal to the motorsport, requiring all hands on deck before, during and after races. Engineers play a crucial role in all stages of the sport. They are so integral to racing that there are five primary trackside engineers: Race, Performance, Controls, Engine and Engine Systems. Each individual has something to add to the race, serving as a second (or sixth) set of eyes during the course. 

Do you have a love for single-seat, open-cockpit, open-wheel racing cars? A desire to be in the sport? Acting as an engineer is your best opportunity of being involved in the business. But where do you begin? 

We have compiled an extensive guide on how to become a Formula 1 racecar engineer: 

1. Learn about what the job involves 

The primary job of a Formula 1 engineer is to make sure that the driver and vehicle achieve the most efficient performance on the track. At the same time, car racing can be dangerous, and any error can cause serious damage. Becoming acquainted with this career is an important step should you choose to pursue it.

Engineers need to balance safety and efficiency – and this is what makes this engineering job so attractive - its sheer complexity. 

On a day-to-day basis, Formula 1 racecar engineers must ensure that the car is safe and roadworthy; this requires a high level of coordination and planning. They must also oversee the legality of the vehicle, optimising its performance whilst ensuring the driver and crew’s safety.

A big part of the role involves analysing past performances and assessing computing and engine data to set up the vehicle’s systems to generate superior performance in the next race.  

Moreover, F1 engineers must conduct briefings with the driver before the race to maximise their performance on the track. In post-race briefings, performance is discussed in-depth, and engineering professionals are tasked with correcting any deficits that occurred during the race. 

The engineer is usually in charge of several other certified technicians who examine specific car parts for optimisation. They must also work continuously with car designers to ensure the vehicle is suitable for racing. Because Formula 1 racing car is very complex, every component of the vehicle is maintained by a different licensed technician who continually provides feedback to the engineer. 

When problems arise, be it before, during or after a race, they are in charge of addressing technical issues. This is why they must also be available at every live race and coordinate with the team. 

They may also need to develop computer models and simulations of track racing to identify issues. Real-life laps of each type of Formula 1 racing tracks are made into computer models, and the aerodynamics of the car are studied. 

2. Determine if this is the right fit for you 

Most people know very early on that they would like to be an engineer. But Formula 1 racing is special, and it is a highly-ranked position within the racing world. Because Formula 1 racing is glamorous, exciting, lucrative and competitive, only a select few have the opportunity to work as engineers in the field. 

Therefore, if this is what you want to do, you must be motivated and dedicated. This is not a position that you will get by luck or chance but through hard work and commitment. You may have to start at rock bottom and work as an engineer for other racing car companies for many years. You will need to tap into the world of motor car racing and get to know the people in the business. At the same time, you will need to learn the ins and outs of car racing engineering.  

Getting the job you have your heart set on after leaving school could be challenging, and you will need to start small and volunteer your services to gain hands-on experience. This may require you to spend the entire weekend at the racetrack or the warehouse.

Formula 1 car racing requires engineers with proven experience. Therefore, you may need to start as a junior engineer before you can rise to a senior role, such as chief aerodynamicists, technical director or departmental head. The competition to get a job as a Formula 1 engineer is intense, but you will eventually get your break if you are dedicated. 

And, of course, what about the salary? According to the U.S. Burau of Labor Statistics, the average salary of a mechanical engineer is $88,430. Top earners can also reach $138,020 per annum, although this will depend on your level of seniority and your company. 

3. Get the appropriate education and qualifications

What are the basic education requirements to become an F1 engineer? 

A bachelor’s degree in automotive or mechanical engineering from a reputable college or university is a prerequisite. You will also need to take certain courses that will be essential if you want to excel in this role. Here are a few examples:

  • Chemistry: This is a critical element for the overall racing industry, utilising the elements and alloys to their advantage. 
  • Computing and electronics: Today’s Formula 1 engineers work around the clock with computers and electronics to gain a competitive edge, whether it’s monitoring the wheels or employing analytics to enhance a driver’s capabilities. 
  • Material science: This subject plays an imperative functionin designing and manufacturing a modern-day Formula 1 car, granting the driver maximum safety and efficiency to survive and thrive in races. 
  • Mathematics:Ever wonder if you would ever use that tenth-grade math in real life? Now you know - calculus is a driving force in Formula 1 racing and is essential for extracting a treasure trove of data. 
  • Physics:Physics is paramount in Formula 1 racing as many of Newton’s laws apply to the industry, including the fact that a vehicle in a straight line operating at a constant speed will sustain the motion until acted on by an external force. And there’s more! 

After completing their undergraduate degree, many choose to enrol in an engineering school to specialise in a certain area by pursuing a Masters in Engineering diploma or certificate. After graduation, you can seek a job as an apprentice or intern in the car racing industry. 

In addition to standard education, there are other qualifications you can garner to enhance your odds of working within this sport. 

4. Refine your skills 

Formula 1 racing is a team sport that requires excellent communication and collaboration across all team members. Everyone shares a common goal - creating the fastest racing car. 

Therefore, in addition to technical knowledge, you must also develop specific skills that will help you break into this field. 

You will need to possess a dynamic personality that can match a group of intensely competitive professionals, for starters. 

You must also have excellent teamwork skills, as a significant amount of time is spent at the workshop, racetrack and on the road. There might be times when things do not go well and tempers fray, but it is important to keep your self in check. Having great problem-solving skills and excellent communication abilities is also essential here, as it will allow you to navigate conflict and defuse tension. 

As this is an intense sport, you must be flexible and know how to cope with the stress, pressure, and intensity of the work demands. You must also be good at improvising; during a pit stop, the engineer is often asked for input if there is a problem with the car. You will need to have the ability to make quick decisions that are accurate and practical. 

Moreover, you need to have strong enthusiasm for racing; an engineer’s job entails long hours working in the workshop. It is vital that you are passionate about the industry and committed to your profession. 

5. Participate in sporting events and competitions 

In most cases, it’s not easy to land a job with a Formula 1 car company right after graduation. You will need to have solid experience, which usually means volunteering as an assistant engineer at the workshop or the races. 

Another option is to marshal at the races. The job involves ensuring the public’s safety and notifying race organisers to stop the race if there is an accident. Marshalling also involves checking racetrack barriers to ensure they are intact – these prevent car runaways outside the lap. 

You could also contact a racing company and offer to do a study or project for them. For example, you could develop a mathematical or computer model to study aerodynamics that may be of value to the company. 

Because of the fierce competition to enter Formula 1 racing as an engineer, you may need to work as a data engineer or vehicle dynamitist for other racing businesses, such as IndyCar, NASCAR and other similar racing sports. This will help you build the related experience and skills that may assist you in landing a job as a Formula 1 engineer. 

6. Keep up with the sport 

If you really want to be a Formula 1 engineer, not only should you know about its history, but you also actively watch the races. When you go for a job interview, you will be asked about the history of Formula 1 racing, past champions, and your overall knowledge about the sport. 

You are also likely to be asked what you have to offer; your answer should reflect your confidence and knowledge of the sport and also demonstrate your enthusiasm about the tole. 

By being an active spectator, you can fuel your chances of having a part within F1 racing as an engineer. 

Whether you love Formula 1 racing or automobiles in general, being an engineer in this sport is a rewarding endeavour. 

Everything from the adrenaline you receive during and after a race to your acumen being challenged on a regular basis makes this a thrilling career path. What is there not to love about putting the pedal to the metal when you are not the driver? 

Why do you want to be a Formula 1 engineer? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below!


This article is an updated version of an earlier article originally published on 12 December 2014.